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Every Christmas Ruby returns, crowing about her accomplishments. This time it’s a relationship: she says she’s dating an Ecuadorian pearl diver whose family owns a ski resort on the Pyrenees.

I am skeptical as these details emerge, then become envious as the pictures on her phone seem to confirm her story: her-and-him selfies in black, slick wet suits on a beach, in dark goggles; then snow gear in front of a whitened landscape.

Ruby needs to contrast herself with me and mom and our plebeian lives. Mom tends to our Alzheimer’s-consumed father, a six-foot tall baby of a man who needs regular diaper changes and very soft food and so many medications. I’m a single mom of two preschool kids; my husband left me last year for someone shinier.

Ruby says we should come to her boyfriend’s home in Spain this summer to celebrate the culmination of her doctoral program in economics and the job she will probably get as a result of her current internship. As soon as she extends the invitation, she stuffs a forkful of ham in her mouth and chews. Because, what can she say? She knows it will not, cannot happen. Mom and I are too busy climbing our own mountains to ski down them just yet.

(Story built around three randomly chosen words:
returns, crowing, betterment)